8 Smart Time Management Strategies for Insanely Busy College Students

Taking the time to relax is one of the most important time management skills for college students.
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At one point in college, I worked three jobs on top of taking a full course load.

Somehow, despite working around 60 hours a week outside of school, I managed to get two A’s and one B.

There are many students who, like me, juggle tons of responsibilities and stress. And we’re able to do it because we have one thing in common: strong time-management skills.

But even if you aren’t trying to balance multiple jobs on top of classes, staying afloat during the school year can be difficult. Between extracurriculars, studying and still trying to maintain a social life, at some point you might feel like everything is starting to pile up.

If you need a breath of fresh air, here’s a crash course on time management for college students. Hopefully, these tips will help you succeed and get the most value out of college.

1. Write Everything Down

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When you feel like you have a million things to do, forgetting to complete a task is bound to happen. But in college, an oversight can deliver a crucial blow to your grades during the semester.

According to a study in Psychological Science, using pen and paper to write things down, instead of taking notes on a laptop, helps boost memory retention.

Study subjects listened to lectures and took notes using their normal note-taking methods. Researchers found that students who took longhand notes performed better when they were tested on the materials.

The reason: Students who used laptops frequently transcribed information word for word, whereas the students who took notes using pen and paper summarized the material and paraphrased it. The difference is that the latter strategy led to deeper processing. Students typing notes were often mindlessly transcribing the information but often without being aware of what they were typing.

The lesson on time management for college students: Write down everything you need to do and when it needs to be done. Important dates and to-dos will stick in your mind better. You’ll be less likely to miss deadlines or exams as a result.

Consider using a planner. While it may be more convenient to set up reminders in your Google calendar or alerts in your reminders app, it’s easy to forget about them until they pop up on your screen.

You don’t have to go out and blow a bunch of money on a planner, either. Here’s how to make your own instead. It’s cheaper!

2. Prioritize

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I like to make a to-do list at the start of every day. I put the most pressing items at the top.

By prioritizing, I’m able to see exactly what needs to be done that day and what can wait until tomorrow if I don’t get to it.

At the end of the day, I move whatever didn’t get completed to the top of tomorrow’s to-do list. That way, I stay right on track!

3. Differentiate Between Academic and Personal Time

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Knowing when you need to get down to business and when you need (yes, need!) to have some fun will give your routine balance.

To avoid constantly feeling like you’re a slave to the books, be sure to fully engage in fun time when you’ve planned it.

For example, I recently took a spontaneous trip to Savannah, Georgia, with a few co-workers. Unexpected, yes, but I made sure to finish my homework ahead of time so I could fully relax once we got there. You gotta do what you gotta do!

On the other hand, don’t scroll through Facebook while you’re sitting in the library. FOMO (fear of missing out) is real, but you can avoid it when you manage your time. Get your studying done when it’s needed, and you’ll be able to join in on the fun afterward.

4. Balance School and Work

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If you’re like me and have to financially support yourself while you’re in school, you probably have a part-time or full-time job. And yes, that means when you’re not at school, you’re probably at work. How the heck are you supposed to find time to study?

Well, the best advice I can give is to organize your schedule so you’re off work at least two days a week. If you think you can’t make this happen, pick up an extra shift during one of your already scheduled days. Do anything you can to make sure you have at least two days off.

Be as productive as possible during those two off days. Get homework assignments done. Get caught up on your reading. Make up for any breaks you take. You can’t slack on these days off — it’s too difficult to recover from them.

As much as we want to believe that we can do it all, the reality is we can’t. At some point, something’s gotta give. Considering that college is an expensive investment, your schoolwork should always take priority.

5. Get Enough Sleep

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You might have heard this before, but when you don’t sleep enough, your brain doesn’t function at its full potential.

According to a study published in the January 2013 issue of Child Development, students who got less sleep than usual reported more academic problems the next day than they did after they got their normal amount of sleep.

The reason? REM sleep enables your brain to sort through your thoughts and memories, organizing them so they are easy to access.

Without proper REM sleep, your brain gets cluttered. As a result, it’s hard for you to focus and retain information when you need to, like while you’re in class or studying.

Time management is about getting the most out of every single minute you dedicate to a task. Lacking good sleep could hinder that!

Going hand-in-hand with that, all-nighters are definitely not a good idea. By cramming all your studying into one night, you’re less likely to retain all of it because your brain is in overdrive and it’s tired.

To avoid this, break up your studying to focus on one specific section at a time. Once you’re a week or so away from your exam, you should have gone over all of the material already. You can then dedicate that week to reviewing and pinpointing where you’re struggling the most. Focusing on those specific pain points is a lot easier than trying to focus on all the material at once.

6. Be Flexible

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One of the most important things I ever heard my boss say was that it’s OK if you don’t finish your to-do list.

Oftentimes, people exaggerate the amount of work they have to get done in their heads, which results in feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Be OK with rearranging some things. A to-do list or schedule should be a guideline, not something you’re forcing yourself to complete.

Remember, if your to-do list doesn’t get finished by the end of the day, don’t have a meltdown. Tomorrow is another chance to crush it!

7. Prioritize Extracurriculars

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It’s important to be involved on campus. It looks great on a resume, and involvement helps you network and build skills you can use in the workforce.

Knowing that, you may be tempted to get involved in multiple extracurriculars — a fraternity, the newspaper, an honor society and maybe even the knitting club — but it will get tough to keep up with all of them.

Pick a few that really spark your interest, and go for them. It’s better to have a few you can focus your time and energy on than a bunch you don’t really participate in. Do you really want to go to an interview and get asked, “So tell me about your experience in the American Marketing Association chapter at your school?” if you only went to two meetings because you got hung up at the movie club? Probably not. Prioritizing can help you build skills you can use in the long run.

8. Be Kind to Yourself

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This very well could be the most important point on this list.

Remember to put yourself first during busy periods. That means if you’re tired of studying at 2 a.m. and want to sleep, then sleep. If you want to take a 30-minute break and stare at the ceiling, by all means, do it.

Doing what you need to do will keep you focused and sane — just be sure to evaluate the consequences of those actions afterward and adjust your to-do list or schedule accordingly.

Doing things to keep you happy will result in a more positive attitude toward your workload, making the busyness much less painful throughout the semester!

Your Turn: How do you practice time management as a college student? Let us know in the Facebook comments!

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder and a senior at The University of Tampa. She’s really thankful she only has one job now.